Fun facts about kabuki

Kabuki, derived from the Japanese verb kabuku, which means to slant or tilt, is a traditional and melodramatic form of dance and theatre.
Kabuki, derived from the Japanese verb kabuku, which means to slant or tilt, is a traditional and melodramatic form of dance and theatre. PHOTO: JAPAN THEATRE 2015

Kabuki, derived from the Japanese verb kabuku, which means to slant or tilt, is a traditional and melodramatic form of dance and theatre, dating back to the Edo period, spanning the 17th and 18th century. Here are five fun facts about the classic artform.

1. Women are banned from performing kabuki

When kabuki was first born as mainstream entertainment, women were allowed to act. In 1629, the shogunate, Japan's reigning government, instituted a ban, as the art form often devolved into prostitution post-performance. Hence, the art of female impersonation (onnagata) was born. Ebizo Ichikawa XI himself is an onnagata expert, as are many other kabuki actors.

2. Kabuki is a family affair

Most kabuki actors can trace their bloodlines back to centuries ago when their ancestors first performed. Ichikawa is known to some as the "prince of kabuki", as he comes from a line of actors dating back to the 1700s.

3. Shouting at actors is allowed

Do not mistake audience members who shout the actors' stage names as hecklers. It is a tradition for audience members to call out actors' hereditary stage names during the performance as a show of support.

4. Trapdoors abound

Revolving platforms and trapdoors, commonly referred to as seri, provide dynamic stage changes, as cast members can be raised or lowered to make dramatic entrances.

5. Kabuki is a Unesco treasure

Kabuki has been named by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. It is joined by nogaku theatre, its more austere cousin, as well as bunraku, a form of puppet theatre.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2015, with the headline 'Fun facts about kabuki'. Print Edition | Subscribe